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  1. #1

    Default In Defense of Sales Assistants

    I have to credit and thank Rtamara for posting the link to this Washington Post Magazine column. Read it:
    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn...122001093.html

    Imagine the predicament sales assistants are put in by the mass majority of fragrance purchasers, who are like this very articulate yet super clod guy. He thinks perfume? Oh golly, next thought--wait for it--French prostitution! Golly, don't think I've ever seen that exclamation reached before, how original a thinker! Further, not only does he not know anything about perfume/scents/fragrances (he suggests people are aloof when talking about "fragrances" instead of perfume), but he's proud, and vain, about how he doesn't know anything about that froo froo silly stuff. He's boastful of his ignorance. He seems to think people who know about it, are interested in it, or care about it, are aloof, silly, pretentious maybe, vain, and not to be taken seriously. (Maybe I stretch things, but in the main I think I'm right and I want to make a point.)

    This is the kind of jackass I can't stand. One who thinks it's smart, and "cool" (although this guy is so cool he doesn't think "cool" applies to him since he's so unpretentious) to be dumb, judgmental, and a sourpuss.

    But he sure made me think. Think of what sales assistants face with customers with these hang-ups. The customers WANT something they think is pretentious, but abhor the idea of appearing pretentious because they want it. Further, they want something "perfect" from the sales assistant, and think that if they can just explain the colors the person for whom the purchase is for wears, say, or some other non-nose "appearance quality," that the sales assistant will automatically know right away what scent should be the gift.

    Naturally, sales assistants build up and depend on the authority these moron customers want them to have. Oh, the sales assistant knows exactly the fragrance for your wife, sir, no question about it. This one is very tasteful. In perfume concentration? That's US$280, sir. Oh yes, it's very good.

    So the sales assistants naturally seek to do two things I can spot: overcome the customer's "I'll be seen as a fake if I'm buying this froo-froo juice" instinct, and assure the customer that the smell sold will be perfect, fitting, enjoyed inherently, and bring thanks in the form of cuddles and high heels worn out for fancy dinners.

    (In complete contrast to these sales assistants, we fragrance aficionados here train ourselves to say "go smell lots of things--especially the following--and you've got to make your nose make up your own mind." I'm naturally simplifying things, but the sales associate is called upon to REDUCE the customer's options: "Which one of these is the best? Which one of these should I get her--she's tall, funny, and a business woman?" Which one of these do YOU really think is great?" But we collectors, more savvy about the hunt for scents that please, we EXPAND the options for the would be customer. We want the customer to make the decision. Speaking as a Basenotes member and self declared scent-aficionado, I think ours is the best way.)

    I'd have such a hard time helping this column's clod find something. To do so I'd dumb down. I'd see the world in his terms with him, and effectively I would arbitrarily reduce the customer's options. "Smell this one, sir, I know exactly what you mean. Oh, too sweet? Well sometimes people do comment on that quality, but try this one instead..." All the time I'd have a somewhat knowing, quite assured, yet thoughtful facial expression on my face. All of this would be in the service of two missions: selling, making money, filling my quota, making my boss's boss notice me, and second, getting the customer a very happy purchase and sending him home happy, filled with joyous expectation, feeling that money was well spent for something that is the intangible good thing in life, and remembering my name and trustworthiness as the sales associate. Exactly what the Guerlain sales associates did for the clod. He published their names. Damn they did a good job.
    That girl, that bottle, that mattress and me.

  2. #2
    Scentronic's Avatar
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    Default Re: In Defense of Sales Assistants

    What a pleasure to both love and hate this story at the same time, and then see your spot-on analysis, which has saved me much typing!

    I completely agree with everything you've said, and I really like the part where you bring to light the fact that their honest function is to narrow down the choices and or make them for the average consumer!

    This guy does seem like a douche
    Lately I've been wearing:
    Windsor, Bois de Santal, Original Santal, Elixir, Douro, Endymion, Reflection, Arcus, Marwah

  3. #3

    Default Re: In Defense of Sales Assistants

    Thanks for sharing the article Chris. IMO, I like the idea of a woman smelling like "the sitting room of a 19th-century San Francisco bordello" as the writer so ineloquently states. Sounds like a very musky and arousing scent. The writer's crass, snap judgments of each scent he encounters add little value to the article and further illustrate his ignorance and willingness to learn about fragrances.

    I dealt with similar customers in the bookstore. They don't read, don't want to read, and yet expect the bookseller to make the perfect recommendation for their friend/relative who is a voracious reader. The worst is when these customers have no idea what their friend reads or has enjoyed, which gives the bookseller little or no information with which to make suggestions. Back in my day, the modus operandi for this situation was to put a John Grisham hardcover or gift card in their hand and send them on their way.

  4. #4

    Default Re: In Defense of Sales Assistants

    Quote Originally Posted by DustB View Post
    Exactly what the Guerlain sales associates did for the clod. He published their names. Damn they did a good job.
    Well, actually those weren't their real names-- Gwendolyn and Cecily are the names of the two somewhat airheaded women in Oscar Wilde's "The Importance of Being Earnest"... so maybe he was putting them down somewhat (though it's been a while since I read the play or watched one of the movie productions of it-- so I kind of forget their qualities).

    Anyway thanks for posting this. The guy is a freaking clod.

    I used to have a real anxiety over going to "the counter". Probably a whole ton of reasons-- I felt like a "Conspicuous Dandy"-- as one basenoter once brilliantly put it. Sometimes I'd even pop a prescription sedative beforehand just to relax a little! But I've learned that the best way to have a good experience while fragrance shopping is to just be up front from the beginning-- I usually tell the ladies right away that I have x-number of bottles and am a bit of a fragrance freak-- at which point they also relax and let me have run of the testers. I don't try to come off as a know it all, and sometimes I'll steer the conversation toward a product that they are familiar with-- so I don't come off as the guy who stands at the Macy's counter talking about Creeds.

    I find that I wind up having just as much fun at a department store with a shortage of scents that interest me, as I do going into a store that looks like a niche-wet-dream. Rule number 1-- NEVER pout and lament that a particular store doesn't carry a certain fragrance or line. The SA can't help it and it makes you look like a high maintenance jerk. (Sometimes at certain places--like smaller independent shops they can sometimes order a fragrance for you which is nice.)

    Also a SA has no knowledge of what's in your drobe, so if he or she suggests something that's old hat to you-- don't be dismissive. If a fellow Basenoter naively suggested that you try Aqua di Gio (when you'd said before that you hate Aqua di GIo) you wouldn't bite their head off. So if an SA suggests Aqua di Gio, you can laugh about the popularity of Aqua di Gio, or maybe graciously say no-- but... and I know this takes restraint... DON'T go off on a Michael Douglas/Falling Down rant about the sorry state of society being the result of too much f-ing Aqua di Gio in the world. Well, actually that might be kind of a funny trainwreck to see-- you can see I've been thinking about it...

    Have fun with the SA's. Be a clown, not a clod. They'll remember you and be happy to see you the next time.

    Last edited by Indie_Guy; 5th January 2008 at 12:31 AM. Reason: I mis-spelled conspicuous dandy...

  5. #5

    Default Re: In Defense of Sales Assistants

    Quote Originally Posted by DustB View Post
    ... All of this would be in the service of two missions: selling, making money, filling my quota, making my boss's boss notice me, and second, getting the customer a very happy purchase and sending him home happy, filled with joyous expectation, feeling that money was well spent for something that is the intangible good thing in life, and remembering my name and trustworthiness as the sales associate. Exactly what the Guerlain sales associates did for the clod. He published their names. Damn they did a good job....
    Excellent points DustB. I too detest the ill treatment of another human being, not matter what the circumstances, including deriding them in a newspaper article. SA's are just human beings trying to get by.

    One thing though: The author didn't actually name the two Geurlain SA's. Rather, he was showing off his knowledge of Oscar Wilde's "The Importance of Being Ernest" whose two young, rather birdbrained female characters are "Gwendolen" and "Cecily" which besides being a cruel, mean-spirited attempt at "humor," is actually a deliciously ironic reference coming from a writer so obviously proud of his anti-effete dumb-ass opinions about a subject on which he chose to forgo even a smidgen of journalistic research in favor of a chance to trumpet his clever-by-half ignorance.

    My question: What was his editor thinking?

  6. #6

    Default Re: In Defense of Sales Assistants

    In defense of the article, I laughed out loud at some of the parts (mostly the parts displaying his own ignorance), so it was an enjoyable read.

    In defense of SAs, I can feel their pain (having worked in the retail industry for some time). Sometimes you are forced to sell something you don't really believe in. You're forced to push it, because well, it's popular and an easy sell. However, if you try asking one what his/her favorite scent is that isn't as popular, you'll be surprised at what they come up with.

    Speaking of Guerlain, I went to their store in the Avenue des Champs-Elysees and they were very helpful. I was not familiar with any of the Guerlain line at the time (this was before I become a Basenotes and fragrance fan) and I had no idea what I wanted to buy. I ended up with Heritage (the original juice, not whatever new stuff seems to be floating around) and I am very happy with my decision.

  7. #7

    Default Re: In Defense of Sales Assistants

    (Indie and Griff make the same point about the women's names. While I didn't know the root of the names the guy chose, I wasn't careful about my point about the running of the "names" in the piece. Right, I understood that they weren't the women's proper names, but the point I meant to make, but failed to, was that he GAVE them names, personalized them, and made them more than faceless, identity-less presences in the piece. He wrote them identities with names, and he did so to repay their worthy service. I guess that's the point I wanted to make.

    Beyond that, I too enjoyed the story and have to thank Rtamara for posting it on the Female Fragrances Discussion board a while ago. Sure, the writer laughs at himself, but I think he does so for the purposes of rhetorically getting us on his side against the silly who give themselves scented airs.

    I'm glad you guys enjoyed the link as much as I did.)
    Last edited by DustB; 5th January 2008 at 06:23 AM. Reason: found one dumb thing I said. Surely there are many more.
    That girl, that bottle, that mattress and me.

  8. #8

    Default Re: In Defense of Sales Assistants

    At the end of the piece, it does state that you can "chat with him online Tuesdays at noon at www.washingtonpost.com." Shall we all go on and "speak" with him at once next week?
    Scents are fleeting . . . memories are not. . . .

  9. #9

    Default Re: In Defense of Sales Assistants

    Quote Originally Posted by zeram1 View Post
    At the end of the piece, it does state that you can "chat with him online Tuesdays at noon at www.washingtonpost.com." Shall we all go on and "speak" with him at once next week?
    Great question, but the piece came out in 2005, unfortunately. I'm going to find the link to the live discussion that happened and post it here.

    ADDED:
    I just found it, and it was a general chat that talked about a lot of things and nothing at all. Mostly middle of the day office desk worker yuks. It was about multiple columns by the humorist. There were three questions that involved the "Eau de Toilet" column, and here they are:
    Kudos: I loved the your reference to the perfume salesladies by the pseudonyms of Gwendolyn and Cecily, who are also the cooky Pigeon sisters of "The Odd Couple." It added another dimension to their attempt to find you a perfect perfume. Thank you!

    Gene Weingarten: Ah, but see, that was itself an homage. They first appeared as the dippy girlfriends in Wilde's "The Importance of Being Earnest."
    Now, let me tell you of the incredible omniscience of Pat the Perfect. After I wrote this column, I asked her to read it. Didn't flag those names at all. She sent me the following message:
    You should know that it Wilde spelled it Gwendolen but Neil Simon spelled it Gwendolyn.
    She just ... knew.

    Philadelphia, Pa.: Did you know when you wrote the perfume column that "abattoir" means slaughterhouse? It's kind of funny either way.

    Gene Weingarten: Um, yes, I did.

    Wisconsin Ave., Washington, D.C.: Your perfume column reminded me of my husband's first attempt to buy me clothing as a gift. He planned ahead by looking at the labels of several of my favorite shirts so he would know what what size to buy. Armed with the knowledge (medium) he went off to the mall and walked into the first store he saw. He saw a shirt he thought I would like and found a medium. He says it looked a little large to him but he figured that he was just being neurotic and so he bought it, had it wrapped, and proudly presented it to me that night.
    The minute I saw the box I knew there was a problem. It was from Lane Bryant, a store that uses the word "women's" as a code for plus-size. Of course you have know that code word and he didn't, so he bought me a shirt that fit like a tent. He has never attempted a clothing purchase for me again, depite my assurances that he was the victim of evil marketing and has no reason to feel shame. In his defense, it was a nice shirt and had it fit, I would have worn it proudly.

    Gene Weingarten: Many years ago, I wrote a column on precisely this topic.
    Last edited by DustB; 5th January 2008 at 06:25 PM.
    That girl, that bottle, that mattress and me.

  10. #10

    Default Re: In Defense of Sales Assistants

    I'm on the side of the writer here. Okay, so his perception of perfume as the exclusive adornment of whores is a bit appalling.. but is it any more appalling than the unrestrained excesses of perfume marketers, the pretentious posturing of the self-proclaimed elite, or Basenoter expectations that everyone should be intimately familiar with the perfume industry?

    "Oh, you mean fragrances?" When did the word "perfume" stop describing the stuff? Who does that chick think she is? I'd have been tempted to reply "Whuh? Naw, honey, Ah'm talkin' about yer fancy stink-water" in the thickest redneck drawl I could muster. But then, I'm a jerk like that.

  11. #11

    Default Re: In Defense of Sales Assistants

    If this was really true where he lived, I can see why he wouldn't be a perfume fan. Drives me crazy too:

    "I once lived in a region of the country that seemed to have a perfume-based culture. At social gatherings, women revolved around the room like planets, each with her own distinctive atmosphere. When two were in close proximity, I feared some terrible, quasi-gravitational climatic event."

    And if that bitchy saleswoman really told him off about calling it "fragrance" rather than perfume, I can see how he'd have a negative perception of the perfume culture/industry.

    At least he overcame his prejudice enough to go buy something in the first place, so maybe that's a step in the right direction.



    Side note: I wonder what he would write about the contents of this thread? We obviously aren't trying to sound pretentious, but I bet he would think we are.
    "It's not what you look like when you're doing what you're doing; it's what you're doing when you're doing what you look like you're doing."

  12. #12

    Default Re: In Defense of Sales Assistants

    I got screwed by a female sales assistant AGAIN.

    I bought SOLO LOEWE (€40) today, and I only got ONE (1) frikkin sample!
    It was Armani City Glam :|

    This really pissed me off as I saw a fancy girl getting loads of samples for some stupid face cream.
    Did I only get one stupid sample because I dont wear designer clothing?
    Or because I dont use face cream?
    Or maybe it was because I dont wax my ass...
    b*tches

    So yeah, if this guy refers to perfume as a whore thing, I can not blame him!
    Last edited by Suppressor; 5th January 2008 at 11:11 PM.

  13. #13
    DON'T DRINK AND DRESS

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    Default Re: In Defense of Sales Assistants

    Quote Originally Posted by JBL View Post
    I got screwed by a female sales assistant AGAIN.

    I bought SOLO LOEWE (40) today, and I only got ONE (1) frikkin sample!
    It was Armani City Glam :|

    This really pissed me off as I saw a fancy girl getting loads of samples for some stupid face cream.
    Did I only get one stupid sample because I dont wear designer clothing?
    Or because I dont use face cream?
    Or maybe it was because I dont wax my ass...
    b*tches

    So yeah, if this guy refers to perfume as a whore thing, I can not blame him!
    "Ah. I am sorry miss, but I think I have suddenly changed my mind about this purchase. I no longer want this SOLO LOEWE. Please give me a refund...and oh, please take back your sample. I am sure you will want it back as you obviously have very few to give out."
    'Those who grow too big for their pants will be exposed in the end'--anon

  14. #14

    Default Re: In Defense of Sales Assistants

    Quote Originally Posted by kbe View Post
    "Ah. I am sorry miss, but I think I have suddenly changed my mind about this purchase. I no longer want this SOLO LOEWE. Please give me a refund...and oh, please take back your sample. I am sure you will want it back as you obviously have very few to give out."
    To be honest, I would never do such a thing.
    I am not pretentious enough to do this.

    And apparently they know I don't have a big mouth.

  15. #15
    DON'T DRINK AND DRESS

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    Default Re: In Defense of Sales Assistants

    Quote Originally Posted by JBL View Post
    To be honest, I would never do such a thing.
    I am not pretentious enough to do this.

    And apparently they know I don't have a big mouth.

    pretentious--def: making usually unjustified or excessive claims (as of value or standing).



    I personally don't think letting a SA know you are dissatisfied enough to reverse a sale by not being given some trivial 'bonus' extras that cost the store nothing when purchasing an item at apparently full retail is pretentious.. Particularly so when the same item is probably available somewhere else (online) discounted, shipped free and without sales tax added. With the money thus saved you can buy samples you really want from online stores and not feel discounted yourself.

    This type of attitude toward customers will eventually cause many brick-and-mortar operations to close if not challenged and changed IMO. An unhappy customer is one who will probably shop elsewhere next time..and with the internet there are a lot of elsewheres available.

    However I do fully understand a particular personality type not wanting to confront anyone over it. I was that way for many years until I finally figured out that it was my money in play and if I wasn't happy with the deal I could smile broadly...as I ended it.
    Last edited by kbe; 7th January 2008 at 01:54 AM.
    'Those who grow too big for their pants will be exposed in the end'--anon

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